Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Fandom Classics Part 87: Letters From a Friend at the End of the World

To read the story, click the image or follow this link

For those of you who can't get enough Chris in your life (and really, who can?), Nekonyancer recently interviewed me about my stories and reviews.  You can listen to the interview here; I apologize in advance if I sound like a stumbling idiot and retroactively destroy the beautiful Morgan-Freman-cum-English-gentleman voice you presumably read all of my posts in.  Nekonyancer did a nice job of editing together my babblings into something semi-coherent, and it was both incredibly fun and a huge honor to get to do it.

But if that sort of thing doesn't interest you, don't fret!  You can still check out my review of Alexmagnet's Letters From a Friend at the End of the World, below.

Impressions before reading:  This is one I've had on my radar for a while, and it recently finished, so it's time to get reading!  I found the description interesting, I've heard that there are some nice settings in this fic, which is something I always enjoy.  In all, I'm hoping for good things, here.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  One day, Twilight receives a letter from Trixie (this is all pre-S3, for reference), speaking to her like an old friend and alluding to numerous other letters she sent... which Twilight never received.  Curious, Twilight decides to find out what's going on, while Trixie moves toward the completion of her quest.

Thoughts after reading:  The setting--and worldbuilding, generally--is definitely the big draw here.  Whether it's small, pastoral setpieces, or vast dragon-ish empires, Alexmagnet has a knack for making the places his characters visit interesting in their own right.  Moreover, the author (usually) has the restraint to avoid turning his story into expository monologues, highlighting those settings instead through the characters' eyes, words, and inferences, and not belaboring the story with a bunch of details which, while individually interesting, collectively bring the narrative to a dead halt.  That being one of the most common pitfalls of stories hyped as having "great worldbuilding," I was very pleased to see this.

Unfortunately, the writing slows and even stops the story where the worldbuilding doesn't.  At issue is persistent repetitive wording, especially a tendency to over-describe character dialogue ("'[The effects will last] only a few seconds,' she said, stressing the limited nature of the potion.").  But there's also a lot of redundant phrasing, in narration and dialogue alike.  Add to that a tendency toward repetitious word choice, and the net effect is that a sizable minority of the words in this story don't actually tell the reader anything, either directly or by inference, that they didn't already know.  In places, it's really difficult to keep from skimming.

Meanwhile, characterization is a mixed bag.  Trixie gets plenty of development as she goes along, and her arc is quite strong and consistent.  Several of the minor characters around her, by contrast, grow and change in sudden, sometimes ill-explained bursts.  Meanwhile, Twilight and her friends regularly slip out of character for the sake of the plot or drama.  Dash fervently hoping that Trixie gets herself killed because "the world would be better off without her" was an early example that really stuck out to me (to be fair, Twilight called her on it right away), but the canon ponies (and Spike) often seem to act in ways that have little logic behind them.

This extends past characterization issues, in fact.  A persistent issue with the story is that things happen not because there's a good reason for them to, but because they're required by the story.  From Twilight's initial leaving of Ponyville on, the logic of various acts is regularly subserviated (that should totally be a word, incidentally) to their story-necessity.

There's also the issue of the ending, or lack thereof.  I'm going to go ahead and spoil it, because it's not really "the ending:" the story abruptly ends as Trixie prepares to meet the Warden, leaving both the "end of the world" and "will Twilight meet up with Trixie" storylines unresolved.  The fic is then continued in its ongoing sequel, so it's not like you'll never get any closure if you start this fic... but it still doesn't sit well with me.  Letters, as it stands, is not a complete story.  It's not just that there's excessive sequel bait; it's more like the story was arbitrarily cut in half, and that's always a frustrating thing to come across when you reach "the end."

Star rating:

All of that said, this is still a story full of strong settings, and with good adventure underpinnings.  It may not hold up well to inspection, but as a bit of light reading, it's serviceable.

Recommendation:  If you're looking for a skimmable wordbuilding/adventure romp and don't mind some character leaps of logic/behavior, this might be worth checking out.

Next time:  Petriculture, by Kwackerjack


  1. That's unfortunate, this story looked really interesting. It's about an order of magnitude too long for light reading, and I can't say worldbuilding's ever been a huge draw for me, so I'm gonna skip this one

  2. I remember trying once to get into this story, but I simply couldn't will myself past chapter 3. Guess I might let this one go after all.

  3. I'm one of those guys that doesn't care as much for worldbuilding as some others do. I tend to look for stories that have interesting plots and characterizations. When this story first became published, I got plenty of what I wanted in characterization. I was interested in what Twilight thought of how Trixie's journey was going. But then the plot took over and it wasn't as interesting as I had hoped.

    Like you, I found myself skimming entire chapters just so that I could get to the highlights. I also found it aggravating how it felt like I was reading the same story twice whenever the focus shifted to Twilight's group. I get that she's following Trixie's hoofsteps, but I would have liked the situations to be more different than, "here's what Trixie did at this point in her journey and now it's Twilight's turn to do the same".

    I think the destination is going to much more interesting than the journey once Trixie reaches her goal and the two groups meet up. Until then, I'm in wait mode.

  4. I've seen this around a few times, mentioned by various authors and appearing on EqD story update posts. I never realised until now that Alex wrote it.

  5. "...But there's also a lot of redundant phrasing, in narration and dialogue alike..."

    One of the issues when you put out a story in single chapters with a week or two between updates is the reader gets lost, and restating objectives can keep them from wandering away in a confused state. (been there, done that) That being said, this is one of the few multi-chapter slow-updating stories I've been keeping current with. It's been worth it.